NY Times swim article

Discussion in 'General Fitness' started by John Rethorst, Sep 13, 2003.

  1. No special insights, just pleasant reading. Anyone know the Cheever short story?

    New York Times, May 30, 2003

    A Wet, Nonalcoholic Addiction By Joanne Kaufman

    It's 8:28 a.m., the precise moment when four lanes merge into three to accommodate the heavily
    attended water exercise class at the 92nd Street
    Y. Grudgingly, the lap swimmers begin to collect in the narrow slice of pool left to them: my friend
    Suzanne, a fitness instructor, immediately recognizable by her wide looping turns; Laura, who
    stops every few minutes for a briefing on the late-breaking gossip from the locker room; the
    middle-aged man with the wildly hooking stroke and don't-tailgate-me kick, who for no apparent
    reason has been dubbed the dentist; the admirably focused Jan in hand paddles and flippers, who
    streaks past all contenders between consultations with the lifeguard about the finer points of
    the butterfly. And me, Lycra bathing cap worn almost past usefulness, Lycra bathing suit worn
    almost past decorum, determined (after 25 years it seems high time) to knock out a mile in less
    than 38 minutes.

    When I run into people I haven't seen in years their first question, always in a tone of lightly
    amused tolerance, is whether I'm still swimming, an abiding passion during my college years in Ann
    Arbor, Mich., and one easy to satisfy in a sports-proud town. I'm certain these old friends expect
    me to say no, no, that I've put away childish things forever, that swimming is far too complicated a
    transaction in Manhattan, that the pools are too scarce, too inaccessible.

    For the record, I haven't missed a day in the water in years. I swam on my wedding day: the vows
    should have read "for wetter or worse." I swam the days my children were born and each time was back
    in a pool four days later. These people underestimate me. They underestimate my town.

    The chief pleasure ‹ to my mind the only pleasure ‹ of flying into Los Angeles or Palm Beach is the
    view from a few thousand feet up of those squares and rectangles of varying glorious shades of blue.
    So full of water, so full of promise. Give or take a few inconsequential rooftop pools, Manhattan
    keeps its aquatic treasures hidden, but I know where most of them are.

    The first thing I did when I moved to New York after college on a balmy mid-September weekend in the
    late 1970's was to buy a bed; the second was to take out a pool membership at the 92nd Street Y. The
    order of business would have been reversed except that religious observances shutter the venerable
    health club from late Friday afternoon until Sunday morning over a vast chunk of the calendar and,
    of course, over the High Holy Days, Succoth, Passover, Shavouth and other lengthy celebrations.

    The Y has its creed (Conservative Judaism); I have mine (fundamentalist freestyle). And as with so
    many mixed marriages, this has caused a certain amount of conflict through the years. It has also
    necessitated my maintaining concurrent memberships at several swimming establishments around town,
    and depending on the kindness of strangers for visiting privileges at others.

    When, for example, my daughter Karen was in second grade and a classmate had a pool party at the
    Trinity School, the birthday girl's mother and the lifeguard invited me to do laps in the far lane
    well away from a spirited game of Red Rover, Red Rover. I was, unapologetically, the last one out,
    definitely the rotten egg. Last summer Karen went to gymnastic camp at Chelsea Piers; the fee
    included a handful of guest passes to the health club and a pool that had commanding views of the
    Hudson (if decidedly flimsy kickboards).

    That I may have done the Manhattan equivalent of the Westchester swimmer in John Cheever's
    well-known short story "The Swimmer" is coincidence, not intention.

    I have friends with enviably exacting standards when it comes to swimming in the city. A fellow
    writer who lives on the Upper West Side, close to the admirable if expensive pool at the Reebok Club
    at Columbus Avenue and 67th Street and the spanking new pool at the Jewish Community Center, will
    have absolutely nothing to do with either of them, nor any other facility where the water
    temperature falls below 80 and the rules of the road involve circle swimming ‹ up one lane, down
    another. She seeks a pool where she can lay claim to her own space.

    I do not like to think of myself as a shallow person, but the truth is I'm a sucker for proximity.
    Years ago, during an utterly pointless relationship with a pianist who lived in the West 50's, and
    ever eager for a short commute to my swim, I joined the pool one building away from my beau's at the
    Henry Hudson Hotel, whose renovation a few years ago carelessly did not include a swimming hole.

    In those days you signed in on a blackboard to reserve a lane, all yours for half an hour, except
    for the cheaters, who fudged their start times. The membership lasted longer than the musician.

    When I married and moved to the Upper West Side, I joined the 63rd Street Y pool (tiles donated by
    the Spanish government) while keeping my 92nd Street Y membership because I had an office (my former
    apartment) on the Upper East Side. When I took a two-day-a-week job at a magazine in the Time-Life
    Building, I added to my holdings by joining the Athletic and Swim Club pool, handily situated on the
    concourse level of Rockefeller Center.

    But proximity's charm has its limits. When, before my move here, I visited my college roommate, a
    resident of 12th Street just off Fifth Avenue and a member of the New York Health and Racquet Club,
    she took me for a swim at the 13th Street branch. The pool, which was approximately the size of a
    quilt square, would not have provided a workout to an aerobically inclined ant. Then and there,
    despite its other charms (and ignorant of the pool at New York University, which has some community
    memberships), I crossed Greenwich Village off my nascent list of Possible Places to Live in

    Almost daily, I am caught in a struggle between solidarity and self-interest. If I share with a
    fellow water rat the little-known information that the 92nd Street Y pool is open until 8 on Sunday
    night and on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day, or that Asphalt Green has long-course
    swimming ‹ true Olympic length ‹ during the holiday season, I have done a noble thing, no question.
    But to leak such news is to guarantee a flood of hard splashers sufficient to cast the Stairmaster
    in a whole new rosy glow. Generally, and uncharacteristically, mum's the word.

    Perhaps to make this impersonal city more manageable, New Yorkers create their own discrete
    geography: here the street where they had their first dim sum, their second job, their third love
    affair. For my part, I've carved neighborhoods out of swimming experiences. The 20's and 30's on the
    far West Side, heretofore an almost unknown quantity, became familiar, comfortable territory after
    that week of morning swims at Chelsea Piers last summer. (Am I the only one who knows about the H&H
    Bagel outpost just off 11th Avenue in the 40's?)

    But more than anything, pools are a reflection of my Manhattan past: the unsatisfactory boyfriend of
    the early 80's and West 50's; the early years of my marriage when my husband and I rode the bus
    together down Central Park West, me out first at the 63rd Street Y; my pregnancies of the early and
    mid-90's, stroked away in Midtown.

    My dermatologist, a fellow swimmer, tells me of a pool he frequents at Lenox Hill Hospital, unknown
    ‹ the door is unmarked, the doctor tells me ‹ to all but the medical and aquatic cognoscenti. Now I
    can think of nothing else when I walk near 77th and Park.

    I am in a similar haze on the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 54th Street, precisely where the
    vents of the University Club pool send out wafts of chlorine to passers-by. Reflexively, I finger
    the suit, cap and goggles I keep in my purse at all times.

    The Athletic and Swim Club, I need no reminding, is just a few blocks away.